- - Tuesday, September 28, 2010

HAVANA | Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro accused the U.S. of warmongering and capitalistic excesses on Tuesday, using rhetoric from a 50-year-old speech, as the island nation’s communist government provided details about severance packages for state workers facing massive layoffs over the next six months.

Speaking before a crowd of 20,000 in front of Cuba’s former presidential palace, Mr. Castro, 84, marked the 50th anniversary of the creation of his country’s neighborhood vigilance system by quoting extensively from a speech he delivered at the same location on Sept. 28, 1960.

The ailing orator spoke of Cuba’s moral superiority and U.S. cowardice using the same words from his 1960 speech, then warned of an apocalyptic future of nuclear war and environmental destruction with capitalism and its chief proponent, the United States, as the primary culprits.

“The world has to know — if you see the theories they have, the plans they have and the military doctrines they have, it would make your blood run cold,” said Mr. Castro, who reappeared in July after a four-year absence because of a serious illness that forced him to hand power to his brother Raul.

Meanwhile, the Cuban government was trying to reassure a jittery public that nobody will be left defenseless amid the country’s historic economic reboot, which entails laying off 500,000 state workers.

Under a severance plan revealed Tuesday, many of those who are fired will receive an offer of alternative work, and can appeal to labor authorities if they are not happy with it.

For those who cannot find work immediately, the state will pay severance of 60 percent of their salary for up to three months, depending on their seniority, according to an article in the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

“Cuba will leave no one defenseless,” reads the red-letter headline above the article.

The newspaper has been the preferred conduit of information on the most sweeping economic changes in Cuba since the early 1990s. No senior Cuban official, including President Raul Castro, has spoken publicly about the layoffs since they were announced on Sept. 14.

It was not clear what will happen to workers after the three-month severance period has ended. Many outside economists and Cuba analysts have expressed doubts that the private sector will be able to absorb so many workers — one-tenth of the island’s labor force — in such a short time.

Mixed among his anti-U.S. comments, Fidel Castro alluded at one point to Cuba’s economic problems, referring to “errors committed in every revolution” that have led to declines in productivity.

Raul Castro, who took office officially in 2008, earlier this year unveiled plans to get 500,000 workers off state payrolls and triple the size of Cuba’s small private sector to stimulate the economy.

When it first announced the layoffs, Cuba said it also was reforming the economy to allow for more private enterprise. Since then, the government has said it would encourage a wide range of small businesses, allow islanders to hire employees not related to them and give credit to new entrepreneurs.

The changes have been welcomed by many, but there is also fear that they will cause upheaval in a nation where people are not accustomed to fending for themselves.

Cuba’s communist government employs about 84 percent of the work force. It pays workers about $20 a month in return for free education and health care, and nearly free housing, transportation and basic food.

From combined dispatches

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